This Island of Vis
The island of Vis is a result of volcanic action some 30,000 years ago. The Island measures about 92 square kilometres, and is located 36 miles off the mainland of Croatia. The peak of the island, Mount Hum, has an elevation of 2,000 feet.
The near mainland was formed during the Mesozoic era and Tertiary and Quaternary Periods. The geological history of the island includes Jurassic, and Cretaceous materials. Most of the island is built of dolomite and limestone of the Cretaceous period. At one time the island was attached to the mainland, as evidenced by finds of deer skeletons dating to the Diluvial Period, and that the island was covered with deciduous vegetation.
The island was first settled during the Neolithic period about 3000 B.C.. These early settlers gave the island the name of “Issa”. The other name “Lissa” is its Latin (Venetians) name and was its official name until the twentieth century at the end of WWI. However, the island’s name also known in its Croat from as “Vis”, and was first mentioned by the Byzantine Emperor Constantine Porfirogenet in 950 A.D.
The Illyrian tribes settled the island in 2000 B.C. In the 1st millennium B.C. the Illyrian, Liburnians who formed a small state between the 6th and 5th Century B.C, held the island. In 600 B.C. Scattered throughout the island are Tumulus grave mounds that were the result of land clearing efforts to make way for agriculture. Whether they were used as burial mounds, remains speculative because no graves have ever been excavated from these.
THE HELLENIC ROOTS
In 397 B.C. Dionysus the Older, a tyrant ruler from Syracuse, Sicily founded a Greek settlement on this island - a town of Issa, which represented an important centre, a significant capital of Hellenic culture in the Adriatic world.
Dionysius’ fortified town was built in the area of today’s “Gradina” and on the small peninsula of Prirovo, at the entrance to the harbour of Vis.
Today, there are numerous vestiges of this ancient town, saved in the ruins of the city walls, houses, streets and in the tombstone remains (stellae) of the necropolis at Martvilo.
The Archaeological collection is rich in numerous exhibits that vary from items of an everyday’s usage to decorative and artistic masterpieces: jars, jugs, vessels, pots, anchors, and, here, it is, maybe, one of the most beautiful witnesses of the Hellenic past: the bronze head of the goddess Artemis.
They stay and last – the remains, defying to the Time, expressing in their own way, in the language of mute, the stories of eternal Present…
In the third century B.C. started the conflicts between the Issa-polis and the Illyrian tribe of Ardiaei. The Illyrian king Agron besieged Issa in 231 B.C, as did the Illyrian queen Teuta in 230 B.C. Issa applied to Rome for help becoming thus a Roman ally. Rome tried to intervene diplomatically but proud queen-warrior Teuta refused the delegacy. It was the time when the first Illyrian war broke out.
Issa remained under the Roman protectorate - an occupation, which was to last for the next 2,000 years, in one form or another.
Issa was a prosperous town, and its inhabitants lived in lush and abundance. The witnesses are numerous remains, among others: the remains of the theatre (for ca 3000 spectators), the fragments of mosaics of the large public baths (thermae), as well as numerous items for everyday’s use vases, pottery, jewelry…
Vineyards and olive trees were cultivated, making thus an important point in the economy and life, in general: “the wine from Issa, an island in the Adriatic, has no match” (Agathrides, second century B.C.)
This was the town of large public buildings, training grounds (gymnasiums), temples… Statues and monuments from those times make valuable part of a complete cultural heritage, nowadays, treasured in museums of Croatia and Europe.
Compiled by Dr. Jakša Kivela
During the 7th and 8th century Croat (Slavic) tribes (most probably from what is today’s Herzegovina) settled on Vis, and integrated what was then mainly a Greco-Roman population. In 840 the Pietro Tradonico the then Doge of Venice, had led a naval expedition to the Middle-Dalmatia and around Vis, to free the area of the Slav pirates, which had been raiding the Venetian merchant ships. The Croat pirates were able to extract protection fees from the Venetians for the safe passage of its merchant fleets through the area.But in 976 Doge Pietro Orseolo had put a stop to all this by sending a fleet of Venetian galleys across the Adriatic to wipe out the pirates. He first attacked Vis and laid waste to its towns and settlements and again in 997, Vis was again invaded by the Venetians and again all its towns were destroyed and the population was enslaved. In May 1000, Doge Orseolo had launched a naval force to the troubled area and as the Venetian fleet sailed into the ports along the coast and on the islands, he was greeted with great ceremony and public homage, that is, the local rulers submitted to the Venetian authority and had agreed to forget their protection fees. However, the population on the islands of Korcula and Lastovo resisted the Venetian rule and as a result, the Venetians turned with full force against these islanders, with obvious results. This Venetian victory sealed that faith as to who ruled most of the Dalmatia until the 18th Century. Although some sources say that Venice did not rule Dalmatia, in reality the Venetians did conquer most of Adriatic and imposed strong military presence over the local population, despite the fact that the local populace did not accept total Venetian rule. Importantly, the Byzantium Empire was at play in Dalmatia by now and the Dalmatians exploited playing one side off against the other (namely the Dubrovnik state), to ensure a certain level of independence from each side. To strengthen its position Venetians, they founded the Hvar Diocese in 1150 (ca.) to ensure Venetian control of the diocese, which included the islands, and lands of Brac, Hvar, Vis, Lastovo, and Korcula.. By 1278 religious and political manoeuvring allowed the Chancellor of Hvar in becoming the ruling head of Hvar, Brac, and Vis and the nobility of Hvar were given land grants on Vis and Brac with the local population becoming tenant farmers to the Hvar landlords. In 1298, the Genoese fleet defeated the Venetian fleet off the coast of Korcula and as the unconfirmed story goes Marco Polo, supposedly a citizen of Korcula was captured during this battle and taken as a prisoner to Genoa. By 1358 Venice lost control of Zadar, Hvar, and Vis, and this resulted in the Croatian-Hungarian rule being established over Vis, but by 1409 Ladislav of Naples sold Dalmatia to Venice, thus re-establishing Venetian rule over much of Dalmatia and Vis and were to impose their rule until Napoleon wrested it from them in late 1700s.
AN OVERVIEW OF THE VIS POPULATION AND SIGNIFICANT EVENTS
Compiled by Dr. Jakša Kivela
The records at the Historical Institute in Dubrovnik, the Hektorovic family archives, give a detailed account of the Komiza population in 1673. At the time, Komiza had over 1700 residents, comprising of 244 families. Among these were the names of; Antun’s and Gojo’s family from Korcula, Jakica from Blato, Matos, Boska, Joza, Simun from Krapanj, and Vicko from Solta. In a similar file (Boglic archive, Hvar) from 1675 a list of surnames from Komiza and Vis is given. These names belonged to the settlers who had been given land en gratis e.g. tenants with no ownership rights. They were: Foretic, Marinkovic, and Vitaljic, Petric, Koruca, Bogdanovic, Andrijic, Marinkovic, Bonhomo, Borcic, Filini, Bozanic, Batnoga, Bartulin, Biasia, Cesarei, Dorotic, Gregetti, Hrastic, Ivcevic, Jelic, Kardineo, Martinis, Pribcic, Tanfortic, Vidovic, Vitaljic, Zorotovic and Zuanic.
THE AUSTRIANS AND THE BRITISH
Compiled by Dr. Jakša Kivela
The island of Vis was formally ceded to Austria in 1797 at the fall of Venetian rule, but the French invaded the island in 1802-3. Not to be outmanoeuvred by the Napoleon, in 1806 the English sent a naval force to the Adriatic where they then seized Vis and Kotor from the French. The new naval port was renamed from Vis town to Port St.George. The Vis town prospered rapidly under the English with goods from England flowing steadily into Vis and then from Vis the goods were smuggled, without much difficulty, into Croatia and Austria and then into France and Germany, thus easily thwarting Napoleon’s economic blockade of England. But why Port St. George? According to the Admiralty records and of (Sir) William Hoste, Vis’ Governor, Port St. George simply had the best possible harbour one could wish for – deep, large, totally protected and unseen from the open sea, close to the mainland, and easily defended. The English naval presence in the Adriatic was extensive (see Battle of Lissa 1811), that strategy being to totally defeat any French military intentions on the Adriatic, which they have succeeded in doing, - a strategic coup which signalled the end of French military might in Eastern Europe. For Vis this was a time of plenty. Because English trade with Europe was blockaded by the French, the smuggled goods were in great demand and very expensive and citizens of Vis became very prosperous due to this trade (and English navy). Hence, between 1808 and 1810 the population of Vis increased threefold from 4376 in 1808 to 13701 in 1810.
THE BATTLE OF LISSA - 1811
Compiled by Dr. Jakša Kivela
The naval Battle of Lissa was fought on 13 March 1811 just north of the Adriatic island of Lissa (now Vis) between a Franco-Venetian squadron, under the command of French commodore Bernard Dubourdieu, and a small British force under Captain (afterwards Sir) William Hoste. Dubourdieu apparently attempted to imitate the method of attack employed by Nelson at the Battle of Trafalgar, but was defeated in spite of the gallant fighting of the individual ships.
The following text is taken from Naval wars in the Levant 1559-1853.
THE BATTLE OF LISSA - 1866
Compiled by Dr. Jakša Kivela
In July 1866, a major Austrian naval battle was fought near Lissa against the Italians. The battle was between the Italian fleet from Ancona and the Austrian fleet from Pula. Pula was the major naval port for the Austro-Hungary navy. The sea battle lasted 55 minutes when then the Italian fleet withdrew. In the dusk on July 16, 1866, the Italian fleet sailed from Ancona, Italy for Vis. With the intent of destroying the Austrian presence and control of the island, and the gateway to the rest of the Adriatic.
On the morning of July 18, 1866, the Italian fleet arrived off the port of St George (Vis town harbour) and commenced bombarding the forts and the town of Vis. The Italian Admiral Persano, also dispatched two vessels to bombard the hamlet of Manego (Milna,) on the Southeast side of Lissa. Two ships, the Terribile and the Varese, and another ironclad were sent to Komiza (Captain Vacca) to bombard and take Komiza too for Italy. At 10:45 a.m. the Italian fleet opened gunfire at Fort Manjaremi above Komiza. At 530 feet above sea level, the Italian artillery could not reach the fort, although they persisted until 1:00 p.m., whereupon the Italians left for to Manego either to assist others or to have lunch. The two Italian ships that were at Manego had the same problems due to the height of the fort, and they too had to quit, and all five ships then returned to the main fleet off St. George harbour. The Italian fleet that remained at Vis had made a grave tactical and military error – they had failed (some sources say forgotten although this is not correct) to sever the Austrian’s Vis-Pula communication telegraph. When the Pula garrison’s commander Tegettoff received that news from Vis, he instructed Vis to hold out till his fleet can come to them
On the mod-morning of July 19th, the Italians (Terribile and the Varese) bombarded Komiza, while the main fleet was to attack and land troops at port St. George, and attack, which failed terribly with Italians suffering heavy losses from the shore batteries. At about 6:05 a.m. on the morning of July 20, 1866, the Terribile, and the Varese again bombarded Komiza while the main fleet at St. George would attempt to again land their marines and take the shore batteries. Up to this point, the whole strategy was daubed a fiasco at the Admiral Persano’s subsequent court-martial, because Persano did not take into account that there might be Austrian naval presence in the vicinity. At 8:00 a.m. an Italian lookout ship the Esploratore signalled that the Austrian fleet was sailing towards Vis from the Northeast. Persano did not plan for this potential engagement, and insufficient orders led to confusion among officers, that is, no battle plans were discussed among the officers. Their main warships where in the harbour with little manoeuvring room while in the process of landing marines when they got the word of the arrival of the Austrian fleet. The Italians than quickly abandoned the landing. Persano made an additional tactical error. As the two fleets came closer for the battle (Northeast of Vis – about 1.9 miles out to sea from Kraljicina spilja), the Italian admiral transferred his Flag from battleship Re d’Italia to the Affondatore without advising his fleet captains, hence, the fleet captains had no idea fleet commands were to come from, resulting in that they did not fight as a unit but only as separate ships. This was a tactical error that sealed that fate of the battle.
C. Frederik Sorenson, 'Battle of Lissa'. Painting, Heeresgeschichtliches Museum, Vienna. Shows the Re d'Italia sinking after being rammed by Tegetthoff's flagship, the Ferdinand Max. Reproduced in Sweetman, p.290.
Tegetthoff read the situation very well (taking a leaf from Nelson’s strategy at the battle of St. Vincent – to go at them – never mind the manoeuvring). The naval battle commenced at 11:05 a.m. and by twelve noon it was all over; “Re d’Italia” was rammed by Tegetthoff's flagship the “Ferdinand Max”, and sunk in few minutes. The Italian fleet withdrew to Ancona and Persano was court-martialled for his errors and lack of leadership, lost his pension and left public service in disgrace. Admiral Tegetthoff became a naval hero and was to become as famous as the Nelson of Trafalgar.
'The Re d'Italia sinking after being rammed by Tegetthoff's flagship the Ferdinand Max'.
Painting. Reproduced in H.W. Wilson, Battleships in Action, 1926, vol.1, p.52.
THE BATTLE OF LISSA – 1866 – TECHNICAL INFORMATION
The Lissa battle tactics were then noted in all naval tactical books of the time - the strategy being of accurately shelling from a distance and ramming vessels rather than following the naval warfare tactics of broadside attack, a naval warfare tactic (shelling from a distance) which is used in modern naval engagements.
THE END OF AN EMPIRE
Interestingly, in 1873 the Austrian’s ordered Vis garrison to be decommissioned and its fortresses to be dismantled. Continued revolts and unrest have seriously undermined the Hapsburg’s empire. For example, during the period of 1880-1913 some 780,000 people left Croatia – mostly from Dalmatia, and by 1910 phyloxera ravaged the vineyards, which was a major source of the peasants income causing thousands to emigrate, including my distant uncle Petar Bozanic who left for San Pedro in the U.S.A. in early 1919.
The Declaration of Corfu in late 1917 established a federated constitutional monarchy (the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes – the Kingdom of Yugoslavia) under the Karadjordjevic lineage of Serbian kings, with Alexander, the then Prince of Serbia, accepting the regency by declaring a new government on December 1, 1918. After WWI, the Italians occupied the Islands of Vis and Lastovo, Zadar, as well as Rijeka, which violated the treaty of Corfu. Then in November 1920, The League of Nations in Paris finally negotiated the infamous Treaty of Rapallo which ordered the return of the seized holdings to the new kingdom, however, Italy still retained all of Istra, Lastovo, and Palagruza and other strategic holdings – thus choking off Yugoslavia’s access to most of Adriatic.
In November 1920, all territorial disputes had been settled and the provisional government held elections. The Croats wanted a federalist constitution, while the Serbs had other ideas. In January of 1921, a constitution providing for a highly centralized form of government was approved. King Peter of Serbia died in August of that year and his son became King as Alexander I.
The Serbians and their king ruled much of the land and Croats like others struggled against this centralist government. In June 1928, the Croat leader, Stjepan Radic was assassinated by A Montenegrin deputy to the parliament. The Croats withdrew their representatives and organized a separatist regime with headquarters in Zagreb. Civil war seemed imminent, but King Alexander suspended the constitution of 1924, and assumed dictatorial control of the government. Alexander further tried to unite the country by abolishing the traditional provinces and changed the name of the country from the Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes to the Kingdom of Yugoslavia (Land of the South Slavs.)
The actions of King Alexander were still considered very harsh and popular discontent became increasingly frequent throughout the Kingdom. On September 3, 1931 the King proclaimed termination of the dictatorship and instituted a new constitution, but things continued on as before. On October 9, 1934, while in France, King Alexander was assassinated by a Macedonian terrorist connected to the Croats. The king's son, still a minor, succeeded to the throne as Peter II. Control of the government was vested in a three person regency headed by Prince Paul, a cousin to the late king. In 1939 the government was finally forced into establishing a federalist system to appease the Croats.
1796 and before ruled by Venice
Remembering also, that the 59 citizens of Komiza organized a "Brotherhood," with the Bishop's permission in 1569, so that the organized community mindset was deeply ingrained in the social system for well over 350 years. In the 1940 Komiza municipal election, 18 councilmen were elected to direct the affairs under the leadership of the Communist Party of Croatia. District committees, Regional committees of the Peoples Liberation and many other local Communist organizations were organized at various towns and hamlets on the island.
When World War II broke out in 1939, Yugoslavia declared its neutrality, but in March 1941, succumbing to German pressure, the government agreed to adhere to the Tripartite Pact with Germany, Italy, and Japan. The citizens would not stand for this, and a coup d'etat was successful. With King Peter's backing the insurgents formed a government dedicated to neutrality.
Retribution by the Germans and Italians was swift and merciless. Germany invaded Yugoslavia in April 1941, and King Peter and the government fled. The high command of the Army surrendered; but retaining their arms, tens of thousands of Yugoslav troops went into hiding, to begin a long guerrilla war against the invaders. Italy assisted the Germans in the invasion of Yugoslavia and secured most of Dalmatia for its own, including the island of Vis. The balance of the country was divided up between Germany, Hungary, and Bulgaria.
In 1943, Tito escaped a Nazi raid on his mainland base, that was expressly setup to capture him. He escaped by the skin of his teeth. Tito then left the mainland and set up his command centre on the Island of Vis, as the People's Liberation Army. The surrender of the Italian Army to the Allies in the fall of 1943 resulted in the capture, by Tito's forces, of much of the Italian armament, supplies, and even the surrender of Italian troops within his Croatian sphere. Some of these Italian troops joined Tito's Partisan army and eventually helped chase the Germany Army from Yugoslavia.
The Island of Bisevo and then Vis itself became a landing spot for British supplies, troops, arms, and aircraft. These were then reshipped to Tito's forces on the mainland. A small airfield was established by the British in the interior of Vis. This airfield can still be seen today, even though it now is a vineyard. The airport pylons are still in place and a memorial to the brave British Airmen has been erected near what was the center of the airfield. The basement of the church of Saint Sylvester on Bisevo was used as a British command center during this period.
The town's people of Komiza sent hundreds of their own off to join Tito's partisans to help rid the country of the Germans. 108 known citizens of Komiza joined the Partisan Army and died fighting the Germans on the islands as well on the mainland of Yugoslavia. Of the hundred and eight, their ages ranged from 16 years to 39 years. Seven of these heroes were woman, ranging in age from 16 to 20 years of age.
With the oversight of the Soviet, British, and the two Yugoslav governments, a deal was struck in Moscow to join the Royal Government and the Council for National Liberation. In March of 1945, various political concessions were made by each side, with Marshal Tito as premier and with Communists in other key positions. Much to the surprise of King Peter the monarchy was dissolved in August 1945, and the King remained in exile.
Due to its geostrategic position, the island of Vis has been a very sensitive military base since the end of World War II.
To exist, as an isolated Military Island of Yugoslav Army, was the destiny of this island until 1990. The burden of 50 years has gone with the winds of the last war, setting Croatia free and independent country….
Those decades were significant for this island, both in negative and in positive way: inspite of being paralysed in, among others, touristic development, Vis also remained preserved in its authenticity, keeping its precious insular essence alive: the island of fishermen and vinegrowers, with untouched innocence of small inland villages, pure nature and clear seas…so cosy and charming, with tranquil life beats all the year long.
Sources and Bibliography:
|NIKA ADVENTURE TOURS - all rights reserved - design STUDIO E|